OTD in History… June 13, 1971, the New York Times publishes the Pentagon Papers about Vietnam

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HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

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OTD in History… June 13, 1971, the New York Times publishes the Pentagon Papers about Vietnam

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history… June 13, 1971, The New York Times published the stolen 47-volume government documents known as the Pentagon Papers, which outlined the United States government ’s growing involvement in the Vietnam War, covering the Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson administrations. Disgruntled Defense Department analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who opposed the Vietnam War, stole the “top-secret” documents. Ellsberg distributed the papers to the New York Times, the Washington Post and then 12 other newspapers. The papers published in the New York Times sparked a debate over freedom of the press, and whether the public has a right to know went to the Supreme Court, which ruled a decisive decision in the presses’ favor. With another president in power, Donald Trump who like Richard Nixon then, who often criticizes and the “undermines” the press, this ruling remains relevant.

The 7000 page, Pentagon Papers were officially entitled, The History of the U.S. Decision Making Process on Vietnam, and included “communiques, recommendations, and decisions” regarding Vietnam, from the three administrations. Johnson’s Defense Secretary Robert McNamara commissioned the papers in 1967 an official history of the policy, and they were written by multiple authors, including Ellsberg.

After hearing a speech against the war by Randy Kehler in 1969, Ellsberg decided to sneak out volumes from his office at the RAND Corporation. Each night he stole out “portions” and copied them. In 1970, Ellsberg tried to get Nixon Administration officials and lawmakers to acknowledge them but failed. He then turned to the press, specifically the New York Times. In his 2002 memoir “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers,” Ellsberg explained the reasoning, “Only The Times might publish the entire study, and it had the prestige to carry it through.” Ellsberg had a contact there as well, Neil Sheehan.

The New York Times foreign editors’ team and Vietnam reporters set up shop in the New York Hilton, storing the documents and taking turns checking the text to the references. The paper’s law firm, Lord Day & Lord discovered what they were doing, they threatened to out them to the Justice Department and refused to represent them. On Sunday, June 13, Sheehan’s introduction was published in the middle of the front page of the paper entitled, “Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces Three Decades of Growing US Involvement.”

Sheehan described the Pentagon Papers as “A massive study of how the United States went to war in Indochina, conducted by the Pentagon three years ago, demonstrates that four administrations progressively developed a sense of commitment to a non‐Communist Vietnam, a readiness to fight the North to protect the South, and an ultimate frustration with this effort — to a much greater extent than their public statements acknowledged at the time.”

On June 14, the paper published an article on the documents. All branches of government opposed their publication because they were considered “classified” and if the public had a right to know about them and read them. President Nixon particularly opposed their publication and sent Attorney General John N. Mitchell to ask the Times to cease publishing, threatening that

“Further publication of information of this character will cause irreparable injury to the defense interests of the United States.” The Times continued and the administration “sued” them. The government won at first, with a federal judge ordering a temporary restraining order.

The Washington Post jumped in but had to use the Times as a source. The restraining order prompted Ellsberg to “reach out” to The Post. Ellsberg used one of his many intermediaries to contact former colleague and Post National editor, Ben H. Bagdikian, who picked up a copy of the papers in Boston and brought them back by plane. Ben Bradlee, the editor of The Post recounted; “With The Times silenced by the federal court in New York, we decided almost immediately that we would publish a story the next morning, Friday, June 18.” After The Post published their first articles, Bradlee was contacted by then Assistant Attorney General William H. Rehnquist, who asked them like the Times to cease publication, but Bradlee refused. Meanwhile, Ellsberg continued leaking the Pentagon Papers to other newspapers.

The New York Times and the Washington Post took the issue up to the Supreme Court and on June 30, the Supreme Court ruled 6–3 in favor of the press. Justice Hugo L. Black wrote in the Opinion, “In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam War, the newspapers nobly did that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do.” The Times and Post could continue publishing the Pentagon Papers.

Nixon decided to resort to his own subversive method to stop leaks in his administration, the “Plumbers.” These same men were involved in the Watergate burglary in June 1972 at George McGovern’s Democratic National Committee headquarters, that plunged the nation into a crisis and led to Nixon’s resignation. Trump too, is facing an unprecedented number of leaks to the press in his administration as of yet he has not resorted to Nixon’s unsuccessful solution, but still his administration is mired in scandal over Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

READ MORE

Ellsberg, Daniel. Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. New York: Viking, 2002.

Rudenstine, David. Day the Presses Stopped — a History of the Pentagon Papers Case. 1998.

Sheehan, Neil/ K. E. W. B. F. S. H. G. J. L. F. R. W. The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War. Two Rivers Distribution, 2017.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

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Full Text Political Transcripts July 31, 2017: President Donald Trump’s Remarks at Presentation of Medal of Honor to Specialist Five James C. McCloughan, U.S. Army

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

TRUMP PRESIDENCY & 115TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Trump at Presentation of Medal of Honor to Specialist Five James C. McCloughan, U.S. Army

Source: WH,  7-31-17

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East Room

3:15 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  Please be seated.  Thank you, Chaplain Hurley.  Secretary Mnuchin, Secretary Mattis, Secretary Shulkin, Senator Stabenow, Congressman Upton, and members of the Armed Forces:  Thank you for joining us as we award our nation’s highest military honor to Specialist Five James C. McCloughan.

Today, we pay tribute to a veteran who went above and beyond the call of duty to protect our comrades, our country, and our freedom.

Joining Jim today is his wife Cherie, his brothers Mike and Tom, his sons Jamie and Matt, and many other members of his very large and beautiful family.

We’re also gratified to be joined by eight previous Medal of Honor recipients.  Now, Jim’s name will stand forever alongside theirs in our history and in our hearts.  I want to take a few minutes to tell you about Jim and how he earned this place among legends.

Jim was raised in Bangor, Michigan.  His father built their house from scratch and worked 40 years at a piano factory.  Jim’s dad taught him a simple but powerful lesson:  Never do anything halfway.  Always do your best.  Jim took that lesson very much to heart.  He played for four varsity sports in high school and three in college.

In August of 1968, Jim was drafted into the Army.  Within six months, he was trained as a medic and arrived in Vietnam. Right away, Jim poured all of himself into his duties treating the sick and the wounded.  Before long, all his fellow soldiers called him “Doc.”

On May 13, 1969, less than three months after he arrived, Jim was one of 89 men in Charlie Company to embark on a mission to secure a transportation route near Nui Yon.  As Jim and his men jumped out of the helicopter, it quickly became clear that they were surrounded by enemy troops.  Within minutes, two choppers were shot down, and one of his men was badly wounded in the middle of an open field.

Jim did not hesitate.  He blazed through 100 meters of enemy fire to carry the wounded and the soldier to safety.  But this was only the first of many heroic deeds Jim would perform over the next 48 hours.

After tending to the first wounded soldier, Jim joined a mission to advance toward the enemy, and advance they did.  Before long, they were ambushed.  Again, he ran into danger to rescue his men.  As he cared for two soldiers, shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade slashed open the back of Jim’s body from head to foot.

Yet that terrible wound didn’t stop Jim from pulling those two men to safety, nor did it stop him from answering the plea of another wounded comrade and carrying him to safety atop his own badly injured body.  He was badly injured.

And so it went, shot after shot, blast upon blast.  As one of his comrades recalled, whoever called “medic” could immediately count on McCloughan.  He’s a brave guy.

As day turned to dusk, nearly all of those who could and really, really had to make it back — they were finally within their night defensive position, except for one soldier whose plea Jim could not ignore.

Again, “Doc” did not hesitate.  He crawled through a rice paddy thick with steel rain.  That means bullets all over the place.  As soldiers watched him, they were sure that was the last time they would see “Doc.”  They thought that was the end of their friend, Jim.

But after several minutes passed, Jim emerged from the smoke and fire carrying yet another soldier.  He immediately badgered [bandaged] and fixed and worked, but he got the wounds fixed and lifted the soldier to a medevac helicopter.

His lieutenant ordered Jim to get in, too.  “Get in,” he said, “get in.”  But Jim refused.  He said, “You’re going to need me here.”  As Jim now says, “I would have rather died on the battlefield than know that men died because they did not have a medic.”

Over the next 24 hours, Jim fired at enemy soldiers, suffered a bullet wound to his arm, and continued to race into gunfire to save more and more lives.

And yet, as night approached again, after nearly two days of no food, no water, and no rest, Jim volunteered to hold a blinking light in an open field to signal for a supply drop.  He would not yield, he would not rest, he would not stop, and he would not flinch in the face of sure death and definite danger.

Though he was thousands of miles from home, it was as if the strength and pride of our whole nation was beating inside of Jim’s heart.  Jim did what his father had taught him — he gave it his all and then he just kept giving.

In those 48 hours, Jim rescued 10 American soldiers and tended to countless others.  He was one of 32 men who fought until the end.  They held their ground against more than 2,000 enemy troops.

Jim, I know I speak for every person here when I say that we are in awe of your actions and your bravery.  But let me tell you one thing, and one more story about Jim.  On the second day of that bloody fight, Jim found a few soldiers and a fellow soldier who had been shot badly in the stomach.  He knew the soldier wouldn’t make it if he flung him on the back, so he lifted him up and carried him in his arms.

As Jim was carrying the soldier, a thought flashed through his mind.  Although Jim had always been very close to his father, he realized that it was not since he had been a young boy that he had told his dad those three very simple but beautiful words:  “I love you.”

In that moment, Jim offered up a prayer.  He asked God, “If you get me out of this hell on Earth so I can tell my dad I love him, I’ll be the best coach and the best father you could ever ask for.”  As he prayed, a great peace came over him.  And if it was God’s will for him to live, he’d keep his promise to God as soon as he had the chance.

Jim made it out of that hell on Earth.  He made it; here he is.  And the first thing he did when he arrived back on American soil was to say those beautiful words:  “I love you, Dad.  I love you.”  Jim said those words over and over again for the next 22 years until the last time he saw his father, the night before his dad passed on.

Today, I’d venture to say his dad is the proudest father in heaven.  Jim fought with all of the love and courage in his soul.  He was prepared to lay down his life so his brothers-in-arms could live theirs.

With us today are 10 of the men who fought alongside Jim, and five of those he saved.  To Bill, Randy, Mike, Joe, Kent, Robert, John, Charles, Michael, Orestes — thank you for your service and sacrifice.  Stand up wherever you may be.  Where are you?  Where are you?  (Applause.)  Thank you, fellas.  That’s great.

For over two centuries, our brave men and women in uniform have overcome tyranny, fascism, communism, and every threat to our freedom — every single threat they’ve overcome.  And we’ve overcome these threats because of titans like Jim whose spirit could never be conquered.

That’s what this award is, and Jim’s life represents so well:  America’s unbreakable spirit.  It’s been 48 years since Jim’s battle in Vietnam.  He is now a husband, a father, and a grandfather.  He coached high school football, wrestling, and baseball for 38 years, just like he said he would.  And he brought together every member he could find of his beloved Charlie Company.

To many people in this room, Specialist Five McCloughan has always been their friend, “Jim.”  To others, he’s been “Coach.” To those who bravely served with him in Vietnam, he’s still called their “Doc.”  To his parents Scotty and Margaret, both watching from heaven, he will always be their son.  But today, [to] 320 million grateful American hearts, Private McCloughan carries one immortal title — and that title is “hero.”

Specialist Five McCloughan:  We honor you.  We salute you. And with God as your witness, we thank you for what you did for all of us.

Now I would like the military aide to come forward and read the citation.

MILITARY AIDE:  The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3rd, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Private First Class James C. McCloughan, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.

Private First Class [James] C. McCloughan distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty from May 13th through 15th, 1969, while serving as a combat medic with Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division.

The company air assaulted into an area near Tam Ky and Nui Yon Hill.  On May 13th, with complete disregard for his life, he ran 100 meters in an open field through heavy fire to rescue a comrade too injured to move and carried him to safety.  That same day, 2nd Platoon was ordered to search the area near Nui Yon Hill when the platoon was ambushed by a large North Vietnamese Army force and sustained heavy casualties.

With complete disregard for his life and personal safety, Private First Class McCloughan led two Americans into the safety of a trench while being wounded by shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade.  He ignored a direct order to stay back, and braved an enemy assault while moving into the “kill zone” on four more occasions to extract wounded comrades.

He treated the injured, prepared the evacuation, and though bleeding heavily from shrapnel wounds on his head and entire body, refused evacuation to safety in order to remain at the battle site with his fellow soldiers who were heavily outnumbered by the North Vietnamese Army forces.

On May 14th, the platoon was again ordered to move out towards Nui Yon Hill.  Private First Class McCloughan was wounded a second time by small arms fire and shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade while rendering aid to two soldiers in an open rice paddy.  In the final phases of the attack, two companies from 2nd North Vietnamese Army Division and an element of 700 soldiers from a Viet Cong regiment descended upon Charlie Company’s position on three sides.

Private First Class McCloughan, again with complete disregard for his life, went into the crossfire numerous times throughout the battle to extract the wounded soldiers, while also fighting the enemy.  His relentless and courageous actions inspired and motivated his comrades to fight for their survival.  When supplies ran low, Private First Class McCloughan volunteered to hold a blinking strobe light in an open area as a marker for a nighttime resupply drop.  He remained steadfast while bullets landed all around him and rocket-propelled grenades flew over his prone, exposed body.

During the morning darkness of May 15th, Private First Class McCloughan knocked out a rocket-propelled grenade position with a grenade, fought and eliminated enemy soldiers, treated numerous casualties, kept two critically-wounded soldiers alive through the night, and organized the dead and wounded for evacuation at daylight.  His timely and courageous actions were instrumental in saving the lives of his fellow soldiers.

Private First Class McCloughan’s personal heroism, professional competence, and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the Americal Division, and the United States Army.

(The Medal of Honor is presented.)  (Applause.)

(A prayer is given.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Jim, thank you.  God bless you.  God bless your family.  God bless the United States of America.  Thank you, Jim.  (Applause.)

END
3:35 P.M. EDT

History Buzz April 15, 2013: Top Young Historian Fredrik Logevall: Cornell History Professor, Wins Pulitzer Prize for Book on Vietnam War

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

Fredrik Logevall, Cornell History Professor, Wins Pulitzer Prize for Book on Vietnam War

Source: Cornell Sun, 4-15-13

Top Young Historian Profile, 45: Fredrik Logevall, 2-26-07

Prof. Fredrik Logevall, history,  was “stunned” when he learned Monday that he had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his book, Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam.

“It was a shock to get the news,” said Logevall, who is also the director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies. ..

Embers of War is a history of the early years in the Vietnam struggle, beginning at the end of World War I and examining the next 40 years in the country’s history, Logevall said. The book is a prequel to Choosing War, Logevall’s Ph.D. dissertation — which was published as a book in 2001 — about heavy U.S. involvement in Vietnam….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency May 28, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Commemoration Ceremony of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY
& THE 112TH CONGRESS:

Obama Recalls Vietnam Vets’ Treatment as ‘National Shame’

Source: ABC News Radio 5-28-12

The White House/Pete Souza

In his second address this Memorial Day, President Obama paid specific tribute to those perished during the Vietnam War on the 50th anniversary of its beginning.  He recalled the sacrifice of the troops who served there and the unjust blame that was heaped on them upon their return.

“It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened.  That’s why here today we resolve that it will not happen again,” Obama told vets and their families gathered at the Vietnam War Memorial on the national mall Monday.  “You were often blamed for a war you didn’t start when you should have been commended for serving your country with valor.”

The 50th anniversary, Obama argued, is another chance to set the record straight and “tell your story as it should have been told all along.”

“That’s one more way we keep perfecting our union, setting the record straight.  And it starts today.  Because history will honor your service,” he said.  “And even though some Americans turned their back on you, you never turned your back on America.”…READ MORE

President Obama Celebrates U.S. Troops on Memorial Day

Source: WH, 5-28-12

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall (May 28, 2012)

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are joined at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall by Rose Marie Sabo-Brown, the widow of Medal of Honor recipient Specialist Leslie H. Sabo, Jr., U.S. Army, during the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War commemoration ceremony in Washington, D.C., May 28, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This afternoon, he visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that conflict and to celebrate those who served:

[We] come to this wall — to this sacred place — to remember. We can step towards its granite wall and reach out, touch a name.  Today is Memorial Day, when we recall all those who gave everything in the darkness of war so we could stand here in the glory of spring. And today begins the 50th commemoration of our war in Vietnam. We honor each of those names etched in stone — 58,282 American patriots. We salute all who served with them. And we stand with the families who love them still.

At both events, the President noted another reason for celebration — for the first time in nine years, there are no U.S. troops fighting in Iraq.

POLITICAL QUOTES
& SPEECHES

Remarks by the President at the Commemoration Ceremony of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War Memorial
National Mall
Washington, D.C.

2:27 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Chuck, thank you for your words and your friendship and your life of service.  Veterans of the Vietnam War, families, friends, distinguished guests.  I know it is hot.  (Laughter.)  But you are here — to honor your loved ones.  And Michelle and I could not be more honored to be here with you.

It speaks to the complexity of America’s time in Vietnam that, even now, historians cannot agree on precisely when the war began.  American advisors had served there, and died there, as early as the mid-’50s.  Major combat operations would not begin until the mid-’60s.  But if any year in between illustrated the changing nature of our involvement, it was 1962.

It was January, in Saigon.  Our Army pilots strapped on their helmets and boarded their helicopters.  They lifted off, raced over treetops carrying South Vietnamese troops.  It was a single raid against an enemy stronghold just a few miles into the jungle — but it was one of America’s first major operations in that faraway land.

Fifty years later, we come to this wall — to this sacred place — to remember.  We can step towards its granite wall and reach out, touch a name.  Today is Memorial Day, when we recall all those who gave everything in the darkness of war so we could stand here in the glory of spring.  And today begins the 50th commemoration of our war in Vietnam.  We honor each of those names etched in stone — 58,282 American patriots.  We salute all who served with them.  And we stand with the families who love them still.

For years you’ve come here, to be with them once more.  And in the simple things you’ve left behind — your offerings, your mementos, your gifts — we get a glimpse of the lives they led.  The blanket that covered him as a baby.  The baseball bat he swung as a boy.  A wedding ring.  The photo of the grandchild he never met.  The boots he wore, still caked in mud.  The medals she earned, still shining.  And, of course, some of the things left here have special meaning, known only to the veterans — a can of beer; a packet of M&Ms; a container of Spam; an old field ration — still good, still awful.  (Laughter.)

It’s here we feel the depth of your sacrifice.  And here we see a piece of our larger American story.  Our Founders — in their genius — gave us a task.  They set out to make a more perfect union.  And so it falls to every generation to carry on that work.  To keep moving forward.  To overcome a sometimes painful past.  To keep striving for our ideals.

And one of the most painful chapters in our history was Vietnam — most particularly, how we treated our troops who served there.  You were often blamed for a war you didn’t start, when you should have been commended for serving your country with valor.  (Applause.)  You were sometimes blamed for misdeeds of a few, when the honorable service of the many should have been praised.  You came home and sometimes were denigrated, when you should have been celebrated.  It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened.  And that’s why here today we resolve that it will not happen again.  (Applause.)

And so a central part of this 50th anniversary will be to tell your story as it should have been told all along.  It’s another chance to set the record straight.  That’s one more way we keep perfecting our Union — setting the record straight.  And it starts today.  Because history will honor your service, and your names will join a story of service that stretches back two centuries.

Let us tell the story of a generation of servicemembers — every color, every creed, rich, poor, officer and enlisted — who served with just as much patriotism and honor as any before you. Let’s never forget that most of those who served in Vietnam did so by choice.  So many of you volunteered.  Your country was at war, and you said, “send me.”  That includes our women in Vietnam — every one of you a volunteer.  (Applause.)  Those who were drafted, they, too, went and carried their burden — you served; you did your duty.

You persevered though some of the most brutal conditions ever faced by Americans in war.  The suffocating heat.  The drenching monsoon rains.  An enemy that could come out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly.  Some of the most intense urban combat in history, and battles for a single hill that could rage for weeks.  Let it be said — in those hellholes like Briarpatch, and the Zoo and the Hanoi Hilton — our Vietnam POWs didn’t simply endure; you wrote one of the most extraordinary stories of bravery and integrity in the annals of military history.  (Applause.)

As a nation, we’ve long celebrated the courage of our forces at Normandy and Iwo Jima, the Pusan Perimeter and Heartbreak Ridge.  So let us also speak of your courage — at Hue and Khe Sanh, at Tan Son Nhut and Saigon, from Hamburger Hill to Rolling Thunder.  All too often it’s forgotten that you, our troops in Vietnam, won every major battle you fought in.  (Applause.)

When you came home, I know many of you put your medals away — tucked them in a drawer, or in a box in the closet.  You went on with your lives — started families and pursued careers.  A lot of you didn’t talk too much about your service.  As a consequence, this nation has not always fully appreciated the chapter of your lives that came next.

So let us also tell a story of a generation that came home, and how — even though some Americans turned their back on you — you never turned your back on America.  (Applause.)  Like generations before you, you took off the uniform, but you never stopped serving.  You became teachers and police officers and nurses — the folks we count on every single day.  You became entrepreneurs, running companies and pioneering industries that changed the world.  You became leaders and public servants, from town halls to Capitol Hill — lifting up our communities, our states, our nation.

You reminded us what it was like to serve, what it meant to serve.  Those of you who stayed in uniform, you rose through the ranks, became leaders in every service, learned from your experience in Vietnam and rebuilt our military into the finest force that the world has ever known.  (Applause.)  And let’s remember all those Vietnam veterans who came back and served again — in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  You did not stop serving.  (Applause.)

Even as you succeeded in all these endeavors, you did something more — maybe the most important thing you did — you looked after each other.  When your government didn’t live up to its responsibilities, you spoke out — fighting for the care and benefits you had earned, and, over time, transforming the VA.  And, of course, one of these Vietnam veterans is now our outstanding Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Ric Shinseki.  (Applause.)

You looked after one another.  You cared for one another.  People weren’t always talking about PTSD at the time — you understood it, and you were there for each other.  Just as importantly, you didn’t just take care of your own, you cared for those that followed.  You’ve made it your mission to make sure today’s troops get the respect and support that all too often you did not receive.  (Applause.)

Because of you, because our Vietnam veterans led the charge, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is helping hundreds of thousands of today’s veterans go to college and pursue their dreams.  (Applause.)  Because of you, because you didn’t let us forget, at our airports, our returning troops get off the airplane and you are there to shake their hands.  (Applause.)  Because of you, across America, communities have welcomed home our forces from Iraq.  And when our troops return from Afghanistan, America will give this entire 9/11 Generation the welcome home they deserve.  That happened in part because of you.  (Applause.)

This is the story of our Vietnam servicemembers — the story that needs to be told.  This is what this 50th anniversary is all about.  It’s another opportunity to say to our Vietnam veterans what we should have been saying from the beginning:  You did your job.  You served with honor.  You made us proud.  You came home and you helped build the America that we love and that we cherish.

So here today, it must be said — you have earned your place among the greatest generations.  At this time, I would ask all our Vietnam veterans, those of you who can stand, to please stand, all those already standing, raise your hands — as we say those simple words which always greet our troops when they come home from here on out:  Welcome home.  (Applause.)  Welcome home. Welcome home.  Welcome home.  Thank you.  We appreciate you.  Welcome home.  (Applause.)

Today, we’re calling on all Americans, and every segment of our society, to join this effort.  Everybody can do something.  Five decades removed from a time of division among Americans, this anniversary can remind us of what we share as Americans.  That includes honoring our Vietnam veterans by never forgetting the lessons of that war.

So let us resolve that when America sends our sons and daughters into harm’s way, we will always give them a clear mission; we will always give them a sound strategy; we will give them the equipment they need to get the job done.  We will have their backs.  (Applause.)  We will resolve that leaders will be candid about the risks and about progress — and have a plan to bring our troops home, with honor.

Let us resolve to never forget the costs of war, including the terrible loss of innocent civilians — not just in Vietnam, but in all wars.  For we know that while your sacrifice and service is the very definition of glory, war itself is not glorious.  We hate war.  When we fight, we do so to protect ourselves because it’s necessary.

Let’s resolve that in our democracy we can debate and disagree — even in a time of war.  But let us never use patriotism as a political sword.  Patriots can support a war; patriots can oppose a war.  And whatever our view, let us always stand united in support of our troops, who we placed in harm’s way.  (Applause.)  That is our solemn obligation.  (Applause.)

Let’s resolve to take care of our veterans as well as they’ve taken care of us — not just talk, but actions.  Not just in the first five years after a war, but the first five decades. For our Vietnam veterans, this means the disability benefits for diseases connected to Agent Orange.  It means job opportunities and mental health care to help you stand tall again.  It means ending the tragedy of veterans’ homelessness, so that every veteran who has fought for America has a home in America.  You shouldn’t have to fight for a roof over your heads when you fought on behalf of the country that you love.  (Applause.)

And when an American does not come back — including the 1,666 Americans still missing from the Vietnam War — let us resolve to do everything in our power to bring them home.  This is our solemn promise to mothers like Sarah Shay who joins us today, 93 years old, who has honored her son, Major Donald Shay, Jr., missing in action for 42 years.  There she is.  Sarah, thank you for your courage.  God bless you.  (Applause.)

This is the promise we’re fulfilling today to the Meroney family of Fayetteville, Arkansas.  Forty-three years after he went missing, we can announce that Army Captain Virgil Meroney, III, is coming home, and he will finally rest in peace.  (Applause.)

Some have called this war era a scar on our country, but here’s what I say.  As any wound heals, the tissue around it becomes tougher, becomes stronger than before.  And in this sense, finally, we might begin to see the true legacy of Vietnam. Because of Vietnam and our veterans, we now use American power smarter, we honor our military more, we take care of our veterans better.  Because of the hard lessons of Vietnam, because of you, America is even stronger than before.  (Applause.)

And finally, on this anniversary and all the years to come, let us remember what binds us, as one people.  This is important for all of us, whether you fought in the Vietnam War or fought against it, whether you were too young to be shaped by it.  It is important that our children understand the sacrifices that were made by your troops in Vietnam; that for them, this is more than just a name in history books.  It’s important that we know the lesson of a gift once left at this Memorial.

It was towards the end of the day, and most of the tourists and visitors had departed.  And there it was — a football helmet, black with white stripes, and a wristband.  And with them was a handwritten note.  And it was from a young man, still in high school.  And mind you, this was more than two decades after Vietnam.  That high school student was born years after the war had already ended.  But in that short, handwritten note he captured the reverence — the bonds between generations — that bring us here today.

The letter began, “Dear Vietnam Veterans, here are two things from me to you that I think you should have.”   He explained that it was his helmet from midget football and his wristband from his senior year.  So today I want to close with the words he wrote:

In these two pieces of equipment, I was allowed to make mistakes, correct them, grow and mature as a person.  However, that was on my battlefield.  You didn’t get the chance to do that on your battlefield.  Some of you were forced to grow up too fast; all of you died too soon.  We do have many things in common, though.  We both have pride, heart and determination.  I’m just sorry you guys had to learn those qualities too fast.  That is why I’m giving you what I grew up with.  You are true heroes and you will never be forgotten.

That’s from a high school kid, born decades after the end of the war.  And that captures the spirit that this entire country should embrace.

Veterans, families of the Vietnam War, I know the wounds of war are slow to heal.  You know that better than most.  But today we take another step.  The task of telling your story continues. The work of perfecting our Union goes on.  And decades from now, I hope another young American will visit this place and reach out and touch a name.  And she’ll learn the story of servicemembers  — people she never met, who fought a war she never knew — and in that moment of understanding and of gratitude and of grace, your legacy will endure.  For you are all true heroes and you will all be remembered.

May God bless you.  May God bless your families.  May God bless our men and women in uniform.  And may God bless these United States of America.  (Applause.)

END                   2:50 P.M. EDT

Political Buzz May 25, 2012: President Barack Obama Marks Memorial Day and Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War — Meets with Rolling Thunder

POLITICAL BUZZ

OBAMA PRESIDENCY
& THE 112TH CONGRESS:

Obama meets with Rolling Thunder

Source: Politico, 5-25-12


(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

There were no events listed on his public schedule Friday, but President Obama apparently took time out to greet members of Rolling Thunder, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing attention to POWs and troops missing in action.

The White House put out a photo of the meeting, showing Obama meeting the group in the Diplomatic Reception Room.

The organization, which is known for motorcycle rallies on Memorial Day weekend, says on its web site that its members “are united in the cause to bring full accountability for Prisoners Of War (POW) and Missing In Action (MIA) of all wars, reminding the government, the media and the public by our watchwords: ‘We Will Not Forget.'”

FACT SHEET: Memorial Day and Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War

This Memorial Day, we honor the men and women who have defended our nation, and mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. On Memorial Day, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will participate in an event at Arlington National Cemetery. The President, Vice President, First Lady and Dr. Biden will also attend an event at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Prior to these events, the President and First Lady Michelle Obama will meet with Gold Star Families.  On Friday, the Vice President and Dr. Biden attended an event to honor the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp.

Marking the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War
“This month, we’ll begin to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, a time when, to our shame, our veterans did not always receive the respect and the thanks they deserved — a mistake that must never be repeated.” — President Obama, May 16, 2012

The Memorial Day gathering at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall marks the beginning of the national commemoration of the Vietnam War’s 50th anniversary program and is a joint effort between the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the National Park Service and the Department of Defense.

The Federal Government will partner with State and local governments, private organizations, and communities across America to launch the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War—a 13-year program to honor and give thanks to a generation of proud Americans who saw our country through one of the most challenging missions we have ever faced and pay tribute to the more than 3 million men and women who answered the call of duty with courage and valor.  The events and activities that are a part of this commemoration will:

• Thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War, including personnel who were held as prisoners of war or listed as missing in action, for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the United States and to thank and honor the families of these veterans.

• Highlight the service of the armed forces during the Vietnam War and the contributions of federal agencies and governmental and non-governmental organizations that served with, or in support of, the armed forces.

• Pay tribute to the contributions made on the home front by the people of the United States during the Vietnam War.

• Highlight the advances in technology, science, and medicine related to the military research conducted during the Vietnam War.

• Recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by the allies of the United States during the Vietnam War.

Obama marks 50th anniversary of Vietnam War

Source: WH, 5-25-12

The president signed a proclamation on Friday marking the official commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War:

“In recognition of a chapter in our Nation’s history that must never be forgotten, let us renew our sacred commitment to those who answered our country’s call in Vietnam and those who awaited their safe return. Beginning on Memorial Day 2012, the Federal Government will partner with local governments, private organizations, and communities across America to participate in the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War — a 13-year program to honor and give thanks to a generation of proud Americans who saw our country through one of the most challenging missions we have ever faced. While no words will ever be fully worthy of their service, nor any honor truly befitting their sacrifice, let us remember that it is never too late to pay tribute to the men and women who answered the call of duty with courage and valor.”

Full proclamation after the jump:

“BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

As we observe the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, we reflect with solemn reverence upon the valor of a generation that served with honor. We pay tribute to the more than 3 million servicemen and women who left their families to serve bravely, a world away from everything they knew and everyone they loved. From Ia Drang to Khe Sanh, from Hue to Saigon and countless villages in between, they pushed through jungles and rice paddies, heat and monsoon, fighting heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans. Through more than a decade of combat, over air, land, and sea, these proud Americans upheld the highest traditions of our Armed Forces.

As a grateful Nation, we honor more than 58,000 patriots –their names etched in black granite — who sacrificed all they had and all they would ever know. We draw inspiration from the heroes who suffered unspeakably as prisoners of war, yet who returned home with their heads held high. We pledge to keep faith with those who were wounded and still carry the scars of war, seen and unseen. With more than 1,600 of our service members still among the missing, we pledge as a Nation to do everything in our power to bring these patriots home. In the reflection of The Wall, we see the military family members and veterans who carry a pain that may never fade. May they find peace in knowing their loved ones endure, not only in medals and memories, but in the hearts of all Americans, who are forever grateful for their service, valor, and sacrifice.

In recognition of a chapter in our Nation’s history that must never be forgotten, let us renew our sacred commitment to those who answered our country’s call in Vietnam and those who awaited their safe return. Beginning on Memorial Day 2012, the Federal Government will partner with local governments, private organizations, and communities across America to participate in the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War — a 13-year program to honor and give thanks to a generation of proud Americans who saw our country through one of the most challenging missions we have ever faced. While no words will ever be fully worthy of their service, nor any honor truly befitting their sacrifice, let us remember that it is never too late to pay tribute to the men and women who answered the call of duty with courage and valor. Let us renew our commitment to the fullest possible accounting for those who have not returned.

Throughout this Commemoration, let us strive to live up to their example by showing our Vietnam veterans, their families, and all who have served the fullest respect and support of a grateful Nation.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 28, 2012, through November 11, 2025, as the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. I call upon Federal, State, and local officials to honor our Vietnam veterans, our fallen, our wounded, those unaccounted for, our former prisoners of war, their families, and all who served with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-fifth day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.

— BARACK OBAMA”

White House Recap May 12-18, 2012: The Obama Presidency’s Weekly Recap — President Obama Honors Barnard Graduates, Fallen Law Enforcement Officials, LA Galaxy — Awards Medal of Honor & Discussed Congress Economic “To-Do-List”

WHITE HOUSE RECAP

WHITE HOUSE RECAP: MAY 12-18, 2012

This week, the President discussed his plan to help responsible homeowners, honored law enforcement officers, awarded the Medal of Honor and continued to call on Congress to act on a “To Do List”

West Wing Week

Weekly Wrap Up: Courage and Sacrifice

Source: WH, 5-18-12

Fight for Your Seat: President Obama traveled to New York City to deliver his first commencement address of the year at Barnard College, one of the famous “Seven Sisters” private female liberal arts colleges. HIs first piece advice to the graduates was: “Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.”

Celebrating Soccer Champions: On Tuesday, President Obama welcomed the L.A. Galaxy to the White House to congratulate the team on their 2011 Major League Soccer Cup Championship. The star-studded team won a tough championship match after going undefeated at home all season long, and as President Obama noted, “You combined star power, hard work; it paid off.”

What Comes with the Badge: President Obama visited the U.S. Capitol for a ceremony where he paid tribute to law enforcement officials who were killed in the line of duty in the previous year. “Every American who wears the badge knows the burdens that come with it – the long hours and the stress; the knowledge that just about any moment could be a matter of life or death. You carry these burdens so the rest of us don’t have to,” the President said, acknowledging the bravery and sacrifice of all of those who serve as law enforcement officers across our country.

Above and Beyond: On Wednesday, President Obama awarded a Medal of Honor for valor above and beyond the call of duty to Leslie H. Sabo, Jr., an Army Specialist who died while serving in Cambodia in 1970. In honoring Sabo, who received the award posthumously, President Obama also paid tribute to those who served alongside him in the Vietnam era: “This medal is bestowed on a single soldier for his single courage. But it speaks to the service of an entire generation, and to the sacrifice of so many military families.”

Spruce Street at Taylor Gourmet: President Obama joined Small Business Administrator Karen Mills at Taylor Gourmet, a quickly expanding hoagie shop in Washington, D.C. for a roundtable with the business’ owners. President Obama discussed his To-Do List for Congress which includes passing legislation to help hard working small business owners create jobs by giving them a tax credit for new hires and tax relief for investments they make.

Fighting Global Hunger: At Friday’s Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security, President Obama announced that leaders at the G8 meeting this weekend at Camp David would devote a special session to the chronic hunger facing nearly 1 billion people around the world. G8 and African leaders will launch a major new alliance with private sector partners with a clear goal of reducing hunger and lifting 50 million people out of poverty by investing in Africa’s agricultural economy.

Full Text Obama Presidency May 16, 2012: President Barack Obama Awards Posthumous Medal of Honor to Vietnam-era rifleman Specialist Leslie H. Sabo, Jr

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

President Obama Awards Posthumous Medal of Honor to Specialist Leslie H. Sabo, Jr

Source: WH, 5-16-12

President Barack Obama presents Medal of Honor to Rose Sabo-Brown, widow of Specialist Leslie H. Sabo, Jr.
President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Honor to Rose Sabo-Brown, widow of Specialist Leslie H. Sabo, Jr., U.S. Army, in the East Room of the White House, May 16, 2012. Specialist Sabo received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his heroic actions in combat on May 10, 1970, while serving in Se San, Cambodia. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

In a poignant ceremony today in the East Room, President Obama awarded a Medal of Honor for valor above and beyond the call of duty to an Army Specialist who died while serving in Cambodia in 1970.

The story of Leslie H. Sabo, Jr.’s courage and sacrifice was almost lost to history. In 1999, Alton Mabb, a Vietnam veteran from the 101st, was doing research at the National Archives when he found a file that included a proposed citation for the Medal of Honor for Leslie Sabo. Mabb began the work to make sure Sabo was recognized for the heroic actions that saved the lives of his comrades, who meant more to him than life.

In honoring Sabo, President Obama also paid tribute to those who served alongside him in the Vietnam era.

Instead of being celebrated, our Vietnam veterans were often shunned. They were called many things, when there was only one thing that they deserved to be called — and that was American patriots. In two weeks, on Memorial Day, Michelle and I will join our Vietnam veterans and their families at The Wall to mark the 50th anniversary of their service. It will be another chance for America to say to our Vietnam veterans what should have been said when you first came home: You did your job. You served with honor. You made us proud. And here today — as I think Les would have wanted it — I’d ask the members of Bravo Company to stand and accept the gratitude of our nation.

So yes, this Medal of Honor is bestowed on a single soldier for his singular courage. But it speaks to the service of an entire generation, and to the sacrifice of so many military families.

Watch the ceremony, below:

Learn more:

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Remarks by the President at Medal of Honor Ceremony to Specialist Leslie H. Sabo, Jr.

East Room

3:26 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Please be seated. Thank you, General Rutherford. Good afternoon, everyone. We gather today to present the Medal of Honor for valor above and beyond the call of duty. In so doing we celebrate the soldier, the life that produced such gallantry — Specialist Leslie H. Sabo, Jr.

Today is also a solemn reminder that when an American does not come home from war, it is our military families and veterans who bear that sacrifice for a lifetime. They are spouses, like Rose Mary, who all these years since Vietnam still displays in her home her husband’s medals and decorations. They are siblings, like Leslie’s big brother George, who carries the childhood memories of his little brother tagging along at his side. And they are our veterans, like the members of Bravo Company, who still speak of their brother Les with reverence and with love.

Rose, George, Bravo Company, more than 100 family and friends — Michelle and I are honored to welcome you to the White House. The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration that America can bestow. It reflects the gratitude of the entire nation. So we’re joined by members of Congress and leaders from across our armed forces, including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Sandy Winnefeld; from the Army, Secretary John McHugh and Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno; and from the Marine Corps, the Commandant, General Jim Amos.

We’re honored to be joined by Vietnam veterans, including recipients of the Medal of Honor. And we’re joined by those who have carried on Les’s legacy in our time, in Iraq and Afghanistan — members of the 101st Airborne Division, the legendary “Screaming Eagles.”

This gathering of soldiers, past and present, could not be more timely. As a nation, we’ve ended the war in Iraq. We are moving towards an end to the war in Afghanistan. After a decade of war, our troops are coming home. And this month, we’ll begin to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, a time when, to our shame, our veterans did not always receive the respect and the thanks they deserved — a mistake that must never be repeated. And that’s where I want to begin today, because the story of this Medal of Honor reminds us of our sacred obligations to all who serve.

It was 1999, around Memorial Day, and a Vietnam vet from the 101st was at the National Archives. He was doing research for an article. And there, among the stacks, an archivist brought him a box. And he took off the lid. And inside, he found a file, marked with the name “Leslie H. Sabo, Jr.” And there it was — a proposed citation for the Medal of Honor. And so this Vietnam veteran set out to find answers. Who was Leslie Sabo? What did he do? And why did he never receive that medal? Today, four decades after Leslie’s sacrifice, we can set the record straight.

I just spent some time with Rose and George and the Sabo family. Last week marked 42 years since Les gave his life. This soldier, this family, has a uniquely American story. Les was actually born in Europe, after World War II, to a family of Hungarian refugees. And as the Iron Curtain descended, they boarded a boat for America and arrived at Ellis Island, past the Statue of Liberty. They settled in the steel town of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania. Les’s father worked hard, pulled his family into the middle class. And when Les was a teenager, the family went to the county courthouse together, raised their hands and became proud American citizens.

They say that Les was one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. He loved a good joke. He loved to bowl — he could have given me some tips. (Laughter.) Rose says he was pretty good-looking, too. That’s what I hear.

He’d do anything for anybody. And when George went to college, Les looked after their mom. When George went to night school, Les helped care for his three young sons. When Les fell in love with Rose — who couldn’t wait to start a life together — he slipped the ring on her finger, right there in his car, while stopped at a red light. (Laughter.) And as he headed out for Vietnam, he stopped at a shop and ordered some flowers — for his mom, for Mother’s Day, and for Rose, for her birthday.

For Les and Bravo Company, those early months of 1970 were a near constant battle. Pushing through jungles and rice paddies in their heavy packs. Enduring incredible heat and humidity. The monsoon rains that never seemed to stop. An enemy that could come out of nowhere and then vanish just as fast. For his bravery in battle, Les earned the respect of his comrades. And for his family, he wrote home every chance he could.

When American forces were sent into Cambodia, Bravo Company helped lead the way. They were moving up a jungle trail. They entered a clearing. And that’s when it happened — an ambush. Some 50 American soldiers were nearly surrounded by some 100 North Vietnamese fighters. Said Les’s comrades: “The enemy was everywhere” — in bunkers, behind trees, up in the trees, shooting down. And they opened up on them.

And Les was in the rear — and he could have stayed there. But those fighters were unloading on his brothers. So Les charged forward and took several of those fighters out. The enemy moved to outflank them. And Les attacked and drove them back. Ammo was running low. Les ran across a clearing to grab more. An enemy grenade landed near a wounded American. Les picked it up and he threw it back. And as that grenade exploded, he shielded that soldier with his own body.

Throughout history, those who have known the horror of war — and the love behind all great sacrifice — have tried to put those emotions into words. After the First World War, one soldier wrote this: “They are more to me than life, these voices, they are more than motherliness and more than fear; they are the strongest, most comforting thing there is anywhere: they are the voices of my comrades.”

And those were the voices Leslie Sabo heard that day: his comrades — pinned down, at risk of being overrun. And so, despite his wounds, despite the danger, Leslie did something extraordinary. He began to crawl straight toward an enemy bunker, its machine guns blazing. Those who were there said the enemy zeroed in with everything they had. But Les kept crawling, kept pulling himself along, closer to that bunker, even as the bullets hit the ground all around him.

And then, he grabbed a grenade and he pulled the pin. It’s said he held that grenade and didn’t throw it until the last possible moment, knowing it would take his own life, but knowing he could silence that bunker. And he did. He saved his comrades, who meant more to him than life.

Leslie Sabo left behind a wife who adored him, a brother who loved him, parents who cherished him, and family and friends who admired him. But they never knew. For decades, they never knew their Les had died a hero. The fog of war, and paperwork that seemed to get lost in the shuffle, meant this story was almost lost to history.

And so today we thank that Vietnam vet who found Les’s files in the Archives and who was determined to right this wrong — that’s Tony Mabb, who joins us here today. Where’s Tony? Tony, thank you. (Applause.)

We salute Les’s buddy, George Koziol, who, wounded in his hospital bed, first drafted the citation we’ll hear today and who spent the last years of his life fighting to get Les the recognition that he deserved.

And most of all, we salute the men who were there in that clearing in the jungle. More than two dozen were wounded. Along with Les, seven other soldiers gave their lives that day. And those who came home took on one last mission — and that was to make sure America would honor their fallen brothers. They had no idea how hard it would be, or how long it would take.

Instead of being celebrated, our Vietnam veterans were often shunned. They were called many things, when there was only one thing that they deserved to be called — and that was American patriots. In two weeks, on Memorial Day, Michelle and I will join our Vietnam veterans and their families at The Wall to mark the 50th anniversary of their service. It will be another chance for America to say to our Vietnam veterans what should have been said when you first came home: You did your job. You served with honor. You made us proud. And here today — as I think Les would have wanted it — I’d ask the members of Bravo Company to stand and accept the gratitude of our nation. (Applause.)

So yes, this Medal of Honor is bestowed on a single soldier for his singular courage. But it speaks to the service of an entire generation, and to the sacrifice of so many military families. Because, you see, there is one final chapter to this story.

You’ll recall that as he shipped out to Vietnam, Les stopped at that flower shop. Well, the day he gave his life was Mother’s Day. And on that day the flowers he had ordered arrived for his mom. And the day he was laid to rest was the day before Rose’s birthday. And she received the bouquet he had sent her — a dozen red roses. That’s the kind of guy — the soldier, the American — that we celebrate today.

Les’s mother and father did not live to see this day. But in his story we see the shining values that keep our military strong and keep America great. We see the patriotism of families who give our nation a piece of their heart — their husbands and wives, their sons and their daughters. And we see the devotion of citizens who put on the uniform, who kiss their families goodbye, who are willing to lay down their lives so that we can live ours in peace and in freedom.

No words will ever be truly worthy of their service. And no honor can ever fully repay their sacrifice. But on days such as this we can pay tribute. We can express our gratitude. And we can thank God that there are patriots and families such as these. So on behalf of the American people, please join me in welcoming Rose for the reading of the citation. (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE: The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3rd, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Specialist Four Leslie H. Sabo, Jr., United States Army for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.

Specialist Four Leslie H. Sabo, Jr. distinguished himself by conspicuous acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty at the cost of his own life while serving as a rifleman in Company B, 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division in Se San, Cambodia, May 10th, 1970.

On that day, Specialist Four Sabo and his platoon were conducting a reconnaissance patrol when they were ambushed from all sides by a large enemy force. Without hesitation, Specialist Four Sabo charged an enemy position, killing several enemy soldiers. Immediately thereafter, he assaulted an enemy flanking force, successfully drawing their fire away from friendly soldiers and ultimately forcing the enemy to retreat. In order to re-supply ammunition, he sprinted across an open field to a wounded comrade. As he began to reload, an enemy grenade landed nearby. Specialist Four Sabo picked it up, threw it, and shielded his comrade with his own body, thus absorbing the brunt of the blast and saving his comrade’s life.

Seriously wounded by the blast, Specialist Four Sabo nonetheless retained the initiative and then single-handedly charged an enemy bunker that had inflicted severe damage on the platoon, receiving several serious wounds from automatic weapons fire in the process. Now mortally injured, he crawled towards the enemy emplacement and, when in position, threw a grenade into the bunker. The resulting explosion silenced the enemy fire, but also ended Specialist Four Sabo’s life.

His indomitable courage and complete disregard for his own safety saved the lives of many of his platoon members. Specialist Four Sabo’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness, above and beyond the call of duty, at the cost of his life, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Company B, 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, and the United States Army.

(The Medal of Honor is presented.) (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: I want to thank everybody for their attendance. Please give another round of applause to the Sabo family. (Applause.) I hope that everybody enjoys the reception. I hear the food is pretty good around here. (Laughter.)

God bless you. God bless our troops. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

END        3:46 P.M. EDT

On This Day in History… April 23-30, 1968: Columbia University Students Stage a Strike

April 23-30, 1968: Columbia University Students Stage a Strike

by Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor / Features Editor at HNN. She has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

HNN, 4-29-08


On this day in history…April 23-30, 1968 leftist students took over Columbia University, NYC occupying five buildings on the campus before forcibly being removed by the police.

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of one of the most turbulent years in modern American history. The year was just beginning and yet as early as Aprils it was already volatile. Opposition to the Vietnam War was at an all time high, so much so that President Lyndon Johnson chose not to run for another presidential term. Just a few weeks before Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated, and student protests raged across the country’s universities, peaking in April 1968 with the stand off at Columbia University. According to historian Jeffrey Meyers, the protests “took place during a volatile and often explosive period in American history: between the Berkeley Free Speech Movement (September 1964) and the student riots in Paris, May 1968, between the assassinations of Martin Luther King in Memphis, April 4, 1968 and of Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles, June 5, 1968, between the March on the Pentagon, October 1967 and the bloody protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, August 1968, between the Tet Offensive February 1968 and the My Lai Massacre, March 1968, and the escalating protest against the war in Vietnam.” (Myers, 2003) On April 23, leftist students began a strike at the university, which lasted eight days, culminating in a riot in the early hours of April 30 when the police busted the students.

Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at Columbia University

In 1962 Tom Hayden, a twenty-one year old student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor created the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Along with other student activists at the university, they wrote out the Port Huron Statement, the organization’s statement of principles. In only two years, there were 40 SDS chapters on university campuses. Among the organization’s purposes was educating their fellow students about “the evils of capitalism, the plight of blacks, and the perfidies of the military-industrial complex.” (McCaughey, 427) In 1965, as the US was going on the offense in Vietnam, SDS turned its attention to the war.

On March 10, 1965, Columbia University established the fifty-second chapter of SDS, led by Ted Kaptchuck and Dave Gilbert. In its first few months, the chapter focused its attention on building its membership, which included campus radicals and sympathetic faculty, and trying to determine what the relationship was between the university and the country’s defense establishment. (McCaughey, 427) There were other leftist student groups at Columbia including the Columbia Citizenship Council (CCC), organized in 1959 with a mission to help the local community. Most of the University’s chaplains sympathized or supported the leftist groups.

During the revolt a majority of students supported neither the protesters nor the counter protesters. As Robert A. McCaughey writes in his account, “The students who joined SDS, CCC, and anti-war groups and who became sufficiently persuaded of the complicity of the university in the perpetuation of whatever evil they were protesting to move to shut it down were a minority in a minority.” McCaughey, 428 Columbia University had 20,000 students at the time, 6,000 of whom were undergraduates. By comparison, the radical organizations on campus boasted just three hundred members, with another seven hundred more providing moral support. SDS had just fifty members with another hundred supporters. The majority of the student activists were undergraduates. McCaughey, 428

Leading up to the Revolt: SDS Protests 1965-1967

Student protests against the university’s authority commenced in the spring of 1965. The university took minimal actions against the protesters to minimize media attention. University President Grayson Kirk believed the best policy was to keep the disruptions to a minimum, which would have worked, according to McCaughey, “had student protesters wanted immunity in exchange for not directly challenging the president’s disciplinary authority. But it was precisely the latter that the protesters wanted.” (McCaughey, 431) The students primarily opposed military-related recruiters on campus including the NROTC, the Marine Corps, the CIA and Dow Chemical (which supplied Agent Orange for the Vietnam War).

The university’s patience was tested in the spring of 1967 when CIA and Marine Corps recruiters came to the campus sparking anti-war protests. Two incidents prompted President Kirk to ban all indoor demonstrations for the next academic year. By the fall of 1967, SDS seemed to be losing momentum. The majority of Columbia’s students opposed the protests, SDS could not forge alliances with other leftist groups, and the groups were divided by internal battles. The student newspaper, the Columbia Spectator, noted on October 30, 1967 that the tactics of SDS were ineffective.

The Three Issues at the Center of the Revolt

There were three central issues behind the revolt with two factions merging together for a common goal; opposition to the university’s administration. The first issue was Columbia University’s proposed expansion into Harlem. The university was planning to build a new gymnasium on city park property in Morningside Heights bordering Harlem. Both Columbia students and local residents would be using the gym; however, they would use separate entrances. Although Harlem civic organizations approved the project, militants objecting to the use of separate entrances, claiming this was an example of blatant racism. (Meyers, 2003) African-American students from the Students’ African-American Society (SAS) and the CCC protested the expansion, calling the new building “Gym Crow.”

At SDS there was a power struggle between Ted Kaptchuk, who wanted to focus on membership, recruitment, and education (what critics referred to as the “praxis axis”) and Mark Rudd, who was more interested in “direct confrontation with authorities.” (McCaughey, 437) Rudd, a junior who had just returned from an extended trip to Cuba, believed in participatory democracy. On March 13, 1968, Rudd was elected chairman of the Columbia SDS chapter on the slogan: “How to get the SDS Moving Again and Screw the University All in One Fell Swoop.” (McCaughey, 437) Rudd was unpopular with many. Columbia’s faculty disliked his arrogance, and those on the radical left objected to his suburban New Jersey upbringing, his athletic country club good looks and his male chauvinism. Tom Hayden described Rudd as “absolutely committed to an impossible yet galvanizing dream: that of transforming the entire student movement through this particular student revolt, into a successful effort to bring down the system.” But Hayden also described Rudd as “sarcastic and smugly dogmatic.” (McCaughey, 437)

Another of the issues that preoccupied radical students was the university’s often secret involvement and affiliation with the Institute of Defense Analysis. (Conlin, 284) The IDA did not issue contracts, but affiliated universities got preferential treatment from agencies that did. Columbia’s involvement with the IDA was common knowledge. What was not known, however, was the extent of the university’s military research. Columbia’s Institute of East European Studies was accumulating economic data for the CIA, while faculty members may have been conducting some contract research. The news came as a surprise to the university community. SDS was firmly committed to convincing the university to disengage itself from the IDA, and in March 1968, around 1,700 Columbia students signed a petition urging the university to break its affiliation as had other universities such as the University of Chicago.

The third issue was the university’s crackdown on the protesters, though this was slow to materialize. In February when two hundred students protested against Dow Chemical recruiters on campus, they went unpunished, as did Mark Rudd a few weeks later when he shoved a lemon meringue pie in the face of the visiting New York City director of Selective Service. But when at the end of March Rudd and a hundred members of SDS staged a new protest at Low Library six of the group’s leaders were identified and put on probation. Immediately the gym issue became relevant, and SDS students began protesting the disciplinary action, declaiming: “No disciplinary action against the Low Six.” (McCaughey, 440) The students claimed their constitutional rights had been violated.

Spring 1968 Events Leading up to the Campus Revolt

In early 1968, the tension that had been mounting around the country’s campuses had “reached a fever pitch.” (Davis, 39) The primary reasons were the Vietnam War, Lyndon Johnson’s announcement that he would not seek another term, and Martin Luther King’s assassination. SDS saw Johnson’s announcement as a reason to distrust all US institutions including the university administration. As Kirkpatrick Sale explains: “April began the escalation of student resistance that would mark this spring as the most explosive period up to that time in the history of American universities.” (Sale, 429) Columbia’s SDS protest coincided with the Tens Days of Resistance, a massive demonstration against the Vietnam War on campuses all over the country. Fifty colleges and universities participated. On the campuses there were “rallies, marches, teach-ins, and sit-ills, climaxing in a one-day ‘student strike’ on April 26.” As Sale writes, “It was a demonstration of significant proportions — probably as many as a million students stayed away from classes … and yet somehow its impact on the public was slight.” (Sale, 429)

It was the memorial for Martin Luther King, Jr. at Columbia that made the April riots all but inevitable. One of the chaplains at Columbia, John D. Cannon, believed there should be a memorial service. President Kirk and Provost David Truman were not invited until they heard about the plan and insisted on participating. Their presence prompted the SAS not to attend. Held on April 9, the service was well-attended, and was going smoothly until Mark Rudd came to the pulpit while Truman was speaking and “proceeded to declare the service an ‘obscenity’ given Columbia’s systematic mistreatment of blacks and workers King had lost his life championing.” (McCaughey, 441)

Afterwards Rudd left the chapel with forty other students; the walkout shocked the faculty and administration in attendance. The administration was unable to take disciplinary action against Rudd because Chaplain Cannon essentially blessed Rudd’s action by claiming “that St. Paul’s welcomed the views of anyone ‘who sincerely believes he is moved by the spirit.’” (McCaughey, 441) Although it appalled history Professor Fritz Stern, who caught Rudd before he departed and told him “his actions in the chapel were akin to the takeover of Socialist meetings by Nazis in Weimar Germany.” (McCaughey, 441) As McCaughey claims, “This would not be the last time this analogy was invoked in the weeks that followed.” (McCaughey, 441)

SDS found what they believed was a legitimate excuse to protest the administration. SDS adopted the race issue and the gym as their own, and on April 12, the chapter’s steering committee voted to mount demonstrations throughout the spring in protest of the gym and the university’s connections with the Pentagon “war machine.” Then on April 17 at the SDS general assembly, nearly a hundred students voted in favor of spring demonstrations. April 23 was set as the day for the first day of the protest, which would begin with a noontime rally at the sundial in front of the Low Library. Rudd’s mastermind planning included two pre-protest steps to “assure a crowd at the sundial.” (McCaughey, 441) In a letter entitled “Letter to Uncle Grayson” on April 19 Rudd “listed three nonnegotiable demands that SDS had settled on: the cessation of gym construction; Columbia’s withdrawal from the IDA; and no disciplinary action against the Low Six.” (McCaughey, 441) Rudd also began negotiating with other student groups to embrace their issues of concern. According to McCaughey, this “marked a new departure for SAS, which until now had avoided involvement in any campus issues that were not directly related to the circumstances of black students.” (McCaughey, 441)

Although the Ten Days of Resistance was according to Sale “the largest student strike in the history of the country,” it was dwarfed by the sheer size of the Columbia strike, which dominated the press. The media made it seem as if other universities were copying Columbia. (Sale, 429) Over a million students participated in the nationwide strike on April 26. The next day there was a huge anti-war rally in Central park with eighty-seven thousand attending. Still the eight-day saga at Columbia unfolded in the media and stood out in the minds of many as the ultimate student protest. (Davis, 41)

April 23, 1968: Day One

On April 23, 1968 at noon the SDS, CCC, SAS and the university’s black students joined at the sundial in a protest that drew more than a thousand students. (Davis, 39) The SDS and SAS demonstrated at Columbia’s Low Library, but decided they needed to take a more active approach. The groups wanted to get into the Low Library to confront President Kirk, but counter-protesters, the anti-SDS–Students Columbia 1968  JPGfor a Free Campus–blocked the front entrance and the building’s rear entrance was locked. Mark Rudd tried to take charge, using a bullhorn to organize the students. Someone spontaneously suggested the group exit to the grounds of the proposed gymnasium. At the gym site, they were prevented from entering by the police and one student was arrested. As a result, SDS’s main grievance shifted to the student that had just been arrested. Rudd wanted to organize “a democratic decision-making event, proposing a future student strike.” (Boren, 174) However, when someone suggested regrouping again at the sundial the frustrated group moved again.

But instead of moving to the sundial they went to the lobby of Hamilton Hall. It was there that Rudd gained leadership control of the protest, suggesting that the protesters “take a hostage and occupy Hamilton Hall, the main classroom building of Columbia.” (Boren, 174) Their chosen hostage was the university’s interim Dean Henry Coleman, who had not left the building after 6 P.M. in the evening when the majority of the students and faculty had already left. The protesters held him in his office for 24 hours. Coleman was an agreeable hostage, partially because he was treated well by his captors: “We had more food than we could possibly eat.” (Davis, 40)

Although the protests had started off haphazardly, the students began organizing themselves. Rudd acted as the leader, and “appointed a steering committee.” (Boren, 174) The students began drafting their demands to the university, and organized a stand off with the authorities. They also set about posting all over the interior of the building Che Guevara posters and political slogans. (Boren, 174) As Meyers reports, the students “took their revolutionary style and dress, their beards and berets, from Che Guevara” and seemed, as “Dupee wrote, ‘to unite the politics of a guerrilla chieftain with the aesthetic flair of a costumer and an interior decorator.’ ” (Meyers, 2003) Hamilton Hall became a closed occupation and several dozen armed black activists were invited. (McCaughey, 443)

The students made six demands. The first two were the withdrawal from the IDA and a moratorium on building the gym. The others included the right to stage indoor demonstrations, the establishment of open hearings on student discipline, the dropping of charges against the student arrested at the first demonstration, and the granting of amnesty for past, present, and immediate future acts of the protesters. (Colin, 287)

April 24, 1968: Day Two

On April 24, the second day of the revolt the two factions broke ranks, the black students no longer wanting to collaborate with the white ones, and kicked them out of the building. The dynamic changed at midnight, when the SAS voted “that an ongoing occupation of Hamilton–now dubbed Malcolm X Liberation College–should be a blacks only project.” (McCaughey, 444) Although Rudd and SDS were shocked, they agreed to leave. The black students began fortifying the building against a possible police attack and they took over keeping Coleman hostage. (Boren, 174-175) The white students not knowing what to do, took up the suggestion by one of the black students to “Get your own building.” (McCaughey, 444) Rudd, SDSers and white student protesters chose to take over the Low Library, and particularly make their headquarters in President Grayson Kirk’s office. They easily took over the building almost uncontested in the early morning hours. Soon however, there were rumblings that the police were approaching, prompting Rudd and other SDS leaders to jump from the window. The remaining twenty-five students remained there Columbia 1968  JPGunchallenged for the next six days, with many others joining. Rudd wanted to occupy other buildings, but SDSers voted against it fearing it would scare away support, prompting Rudd to briefly resign his post.

The administration made its headquarters in the unoccupied part of Low Library, and although President Kirk wanted to call in the police and resolve the strike quickly, Provost Truman opposed such action. The administration feared the black students would incite residents in Harlem and was cautious in dealing with them. Support grew rapidly for the strike with students taking over other buildings on campus. Students opposed to the strike “began marching on the city campus” and tried to retake Hamilton Hall, without success. (Boren, 175) (McCaughey, 444)

April 25, 1968: Day Three

Day Three ended with graduate students taking over Fayweather Hall. However the most important event of the day was the faculty’s decision to try to resolve the strike. The faculty made their headquarters in Philosophy 301 where they convened an emergency meeting. Daniel Bell offered the most popular resolution, which called for the students to vacate the occupied buildings and a tripartite committee consisting of faculty, students, and the administration to decide on appropriate disciplinary action. He ended by claiming, “We believe that any differences have to be settled peacefully and we trust that police action will not be used to clear university buildings.” (McCaughey, 447) The SAS released Dean Coleman, and he joined the meeting that almost unanimously endorsed Bell’s proposal.

Kirk and Truman were not as supportive. President Kirk announced that classes were canceled until Monday, and Provost Truman told the faculty the police might need to be called in. In response the faculty created the Ad Hoc Faculty Group (AHFG), which would insert itself between the police and the students.

The students were for the most part were unwilling to work with the faculty. The university hoped to end the stand off by announcing that construction on the gymnasium would stop. But things remained at an impasse for four days. The students demanded amnesty for those involved in the revolt, while the administration resisted, fearful that amnesty would give students an incentive to stage another strike later. (Boren, 175)

The day also marked the occupation of another building, after students in Fayerweather considered abandoning their occupation, hard-line SDSers moved on to Mathematics Hall. Later it would be the scene of the most radical protests. National radical leaders came to the campus to endorse the plight of their local chapters. Black Power leaders Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee also came into to speak with the African-American students occupying Hamilton Hall.

April 26, 1968: Day Four

Faculty members were staying round the clock at Philosophy Hall, but in the early morning Provost Truman warned that the faculty must leave. The administration called in the police “to secure the campus,” and plainclothes policemen scuffled with faculty members at the building. (Boren, 175) Still President Kirk decided to withhold widespread police action, holding out the hope that the AHFG could work out a compromise. A break seemed in sight after a meeting with SDS leadership; Rudd agreed to meet on the next day, Saturday, with AHFG at Philosophy 301.

April 27, 1968: Day Five

AHFG was willing to offer Rudd full amnesty for the protesters at the meeting, but he exclaimed, “Bullshit,” and left. Day Five also saw the appearance of national SDS leaders including Tom Hayden, who held control over one building. (Boren, 175) Counter protesters tried to stop food from being delivered to those involved in the strike. Other strike supporters served as supply blockaders around the occupied buildings.

A routine set in on campus. With the exception of those in Hamilton, protesters moved in and out of the buildings easily. The protesters made themselves comfortable inside the five buildings they were occupying. As Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin write, “protesters slept in the president’s office, smoked his cigars, drank his sherry, and rifled through his files for politically incriminating documents…. Life inside the ‘liberated’ buildings was tense but passionate, sleepless yet amusing.” (Isserman, 229)

On day five even a marriage took place between two of the protesters, Richard Eagan and Andrea Boroff, who recalled, “We went out on the balcony, and the [university] chaplain proclaimed us children of a new age. There were flowers. There was cake. They took us out and marched us around campus with people banging on pots and pans. . . . Someone had keys to a faculty office and they gave us a honeymoon suite.” (Isserman, 229) The day ended with a rally: “The effective united front among all the variety of SDSers was neatly symbolized on Saturday night, when three SDS leaders addressed a crowd of antiwar marchers who collected outside the university gates: Mark Rudd, Ted Kaptchuk, and Tom Hayden, ” as Sale recounted. Sale, 437, 438

April 28, 1968: Day Six

The calm peace was about to turn violent. On Sunday the AHFG, consisting of sociology Professors Immmanuel Wallerstein, Daniel Bell, Allan Silver, history Professors David J. Rothman and Robert Fogelson and economics Professor Peter Kenen, drew up the “Bitter Pill Resolutions”:

  1. Cancellation of the gym construction.
  2. Columbia’s withdrawal from the IDA
  3. Establishment of the principle of collective punishment for the building occupiers
  4. The disavowal by the faculty of either party, students or administration, that refused to accept these resolutions. (McCaughey, 452)

The faculty involved with AHFG voted in favor of the resolutions, but when Kenen and Bell presented them to Provost Truman, he asked them not to present them at the joint faculty meeting or he would resign. At the meeting 400 members of the faculty from the university’s six schools decided to take a centrist position, neither repudiating their president nor abandoning the students. (McCaughey, 453) Meanwhile outside of Low, the power struggle between strikers and counter protesters increased, reaching a boiling point as the anti-protesters circled the building, blocking the delivery of food. The scene, featuring strikers precariously balanced on window ledges, was famously captured by Life magazine in an iconic photograph.

Columbia  1968 JPG

April 29, 1968: Day Seven

Day seven was make or break in the strike and became known as “the day of decision.” Desperate to resolve the matter, the administration told the police to prepare to remove the students in the next 24 hours if they would not agree to end the strike. The intervention would take place in the early morning hours. This detail was kept from AHFG. President Kirk was open to considering the “bitter pill” resolutions, but the university’s trustees wanted changes made. (McCaughey, 455) The protesters’ reaction to the resolutions showed that police action was inevitable. The SDS’s Strike Coordinating Committee refused to compromise without a guarantee of amnesty. Hamilton Hall protesters also refused to go along. Only the Majority Coalition accepted the resolutions, and after one last skirmish with Low’s food suppliers, they vacated their barrier to the building.

April 30, 1968: Day Eight

Eight days into the stand-off there was no solution in sight. The two groups could not meet in agreement, and university officials were concerned that the confrontation was only escalating. As Boren writes: “With major facilities of the campus held by student radicals, a growing national interest in the students’ revolt, and the threat that residents of Harlem might decide to intervene, President Kirk gave the police permission to remove the students on April 30, eight days into the occupation.” (Boren, 175) It was the only way to end the stalemate. The administration, the police, and Mayor Lindsay feared that despite an attempt to remove the students quietly, there would be a riot. It was this fear that had prolonged the strike for so long. One of the mayor’s advisers, Barry Gottehrer, who had watched the proceedings develop since early on in the strike, believed police action could “result in a massacre.” (McCaughey, 456) Mayor Lindsay looked for advice from Yale’s President Kingman Brewster, who told him, “the very future of the American university depended on punishing the strikers.” (McCaughey, 456) His advice helped persuade the mayor to allow the police to move in.

In making that decision, the university administration was giving up its right to control the situation, leaving the police in charge. Provost Truman claimed afterward: “It was like deciding to take an airplane ride and having to leave everything in the air to the pilot.” (McCaughey, 456) The police intended to clear each building one at a time. A thousand police officers were sent in to remove the approximately 1200 students. Police would enter unarmed and the removed students would be transported in vans to jail and booked. Many things could go wrong and ultimately they did. Outside, students and faculty could attempt to stop the police from entering, and inside the officers would be dealing with uncooperative students. It was the perfect recipe for an eventual riot.

At 2:00 A.M. police officers entered the campus to break up the revolt. James Kirkpatrick Davis says the “assault by officers” lasted “nearly to dawn.” (Davis, 41) The first building emptied out was Hamilton Hall; the black students holding the facility had agreed in advance to leave peaceably. Fifteen minutes later the eighty-six protesters were escorted out of the front entrance. The second building emptied was Low Library, at 2:25 A.M. When the police entered they met only passive resistance; ninety-three students were arrested. As one student recounted: “We all gave passive resistance and were dragged out–heads were banged, clothes were torn, some people were bleeding. Nothing serious though.” (McCaughey, 457) Avery Hall was next at 2:30 A.M. After students refused to leave the police broke down the door. Inside they encountered some resistance and both students and police officers received minor injuries; forty-two students were arrested.

With each building the resistance escalated, and it became more difficult to remove the protesters. Fayerweather Hall was the next building the police entered at 2:45 A.M. There the police encountered faculty and students who stood in their path in front of the doors. In the scuffle history Professor James Shenton received a head wound. The injuries continued to mount inside as students resisted the police; 286 students were forcibly removed. The last building was the Mathematics Hall, which was the most difficult to clear. It was there that the most radical students, SDSers, and Mark Rudd, were hold up. The lights were turned off, leaving the police in the dark. Students poured liquid soap all over the stairs to hinder the officers’ access. Students resisted removal and were taken out by force and injured in the process. They threw “bottles, flashlight batteries, furniture and anything else they could get their hands on at the oncoming police.” (Davis, 41) They could get violent, “biting, scratching, punching and even kicking police officers.” (Davis, 41) Stairwells and halls were barricaded with broken furniture, and even a janitor was thrown down a staircase to stop the police from advancing. (Davis, 41) In the end, 203 students were removed. In a little over an hour, all of the buildings were cleared of 711 strikers: 239 were from Columbia, 111 from Barnard, and the rest from other university/college campuses. Three faculty members were arrested. (Davis, 41)

Columbia 1968  JPG

The removal process was far more peaceful than many had feared with only 148 injuries, most of them minor. One police officer suffered a permanent back injury in the process. However, as observers, students, faculty, and families on the South Field were watching students being placed in the vans, a call went out from officers in the vans to other police on campus. It was then that the police came charging at the crowd, and riots and violence commenced. As McCaughey recounts: “A phalanx of police charged the spectators in the South Field, forcing them to retreat south and west until they were backed up against Ferris Booth Hall and Butler Library.” The gates were locked and the crowd could not escape the police. That was where the worst confrontations and violence occurred. As Peter Kenen observed: “Even those of us who were intellectually ready for police action were not emotionally ready for what we saw.” (McCaughey, 459) As Davis states, “the New York Police Department received the highest number of complaints ever received for a single police action. This was also the largest police action in the history of American Universities.” (Davis, 42) In the process, the police injured hundreds of students and faculty, and arrested hundreds more. The day would be remembered as the Battle of Morningside Heights. (Boren, 175)

The Aftermath

When the stand-off was finally over seven days later on April 30, 1968 Columbia’s president Grayson Kirk went into his office at 4:30 A.M. to survey the damage. Protesters had placed a sign on his window ledge that read “LIBERATED AREA. BE FREE TO JOIN US.” (Davis, 39) The state of the office surprised Kirk and the police officer who accompanied him. Kirk wondered, “My God, how could human beings do a thing like this?” The officer exclaimed, “The whole world is in these books. How could they do this to these books?” (Davis, 39) Provost Truman wondered: “Do you think they will know why we had to do this, to call in the police? Will they know what we went through before we decided?” (Davis, 39)

The university remained closed for the next week. Meanwhile, student radicals and SDS planned their next protests. For the rest of the term the students essentially remained on strike. (Boren, 175) On May 21 the students “placed a poster in Ferris Booth Hall which warned of ‘Showdown No. 2.’” (Davis, 42) They also distributed flyers that claimed: “Can an administration, which helps make weapons for Vietnam, steals people’s land and homes discipline anyone?” (Davis, 42) May 22, 1968 marked the second showdown, a much more violent revolt than the April strike. Students occupied Hamilton Hall again, and the more radical among the protesters set fires to parts of the campus. With this revolt, the administration wasted no time and called in the police.

Again, a thousand police officers were called to campus, and the confrontation turned violent. As Davis reports, the police “were in no mood to be pushed around by rowdy college students. Students threw bricks, rocks, and bottles at the lawmen. The police gave no quarter. It was a bloody, wild fight.” (Davis, 42) As with the last strike, the police forced back the crowds that had assembled to watch. Two hundred students were arrested. In a final revolt, that academic year in June students and faculty “dramatically marched out of Columbia’s official commencement ceremonies and held a counter-commencement exercise, officiated by former Sarah Lawrence College President Harold Taylor.” (Boren, 176)

Many of the liberal students at Columbia wanted to reform and restructure the university; many of the students’ demands were met to accomplish this. The university wanted to move on from the strikes, and in August President Kirk resigned, another marker of change that pleased the students. With the changes, SDS lost its less radical liberal advocates. (Boren, 176) Dick Greeman, an SDS veteran and one of the few Columbia faculty members that unconditionally supported the radicals wrote them: “To student rebels, allies must be sought in the black ghettos and in the ranks of labor, not on campus. It means that ‘a free university’ will only exist after we have won a ‘free society’ ” (Sale 440, 441) Many of the radicals left the university after that spring, while others were suspended for the most destructive actions, including Mark Rudd, who soon became the leader of the violent radical group, the Weather Underground.

The events at Columbia radicalized the student movement. The SDS’s slogan of “two, three, many Columbias” inspired radical students all across the country. As Boren explains, “The incident immediately ignited a number of student power demonstrations on campuses throughout the United States, fueled more by antiestablishment sentiments than by specific attainable goals.” (Boren, 176) Rudd later admitted that the stated reasons for the revolt at Columbia were just an excuse to challenge authority. “We just manufactured the issues…. The gym issue is bull. It doesn’t mean anything to anybody.” (Meyers, 2003) As Sale observes: “Conservative critics were right, for the wrong reasons, when they argued that if the university had given in on these demands the radicals would have found three others just as urgent; or, in the words of a famous Berkeley slogan, ‘The issue is not the issue.’ ” (Sale, 435)

Sources and Further Reading

Mark Edelman Boren, Student Resistance: A History of the Unruly Subject, (Routledge, 2001).

Joseph Conlin, The Troubles: A Jaundiced Glance Back at the Movement of the Sixties, (Watts, 1982).

James Kirkpatrick Davis, Assault on the Left: The FBI and the Sixties Antiwar Movement, (Greenwood, 1997).

Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, (Oxford University Press, 2000).

Michael J. Lewis, “Activism & Architecture: A Tale of Two Cities,” New Criterion, Volume: 16. Issue: 10, June 1998.

Robert A. McCaughey, Stand, Columbia: A History of Columbia University in the City of New York, (Columbia University Press, 2003).

Jeffrey Meyers, “Lionel Trilling & the Crisis at Columbia,” New Criterion, Vol. 21, January 2003.

Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS, (Vintage Books, 1974).

How Many Elections Has Vietnam Played a Role in?

HISTORY ARTICLES

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HNN, 10-04-04

How Many Elections Has Vietnam Played a Role in?

By Bonnie Goodman

Ms. Goodman is a graduate student at Concordia University and an HNN intern.

The first election in which the Vietnam War played a critical role came in 1964. Thereafter it was a central issue in the elections of 1968, 1972, 1988, 1992, and 2004. (In 1980 and 2000 it briefly became a subject of discussion.) Counting 1980 and 2000, Vietnam has been part of the quadrennial national debate in eight of the last eleven elections. Only the Civil War, of all our conflicts, figured in as many subsequent elections. And at the rate we are going, Vietnam may soon eclipse even the Civil War. (This is not to say that Vietnam had an equal impact on American history. Its impact has obviously been less. But for some reason–which historians must puzzle over–it is having a greater impact as an issue in ensuing campaigns.) These are the elections in which Vietnam has become an issue:

1964

In the 1964 presidential campaign the incumbent, Democratic candidate Lyndon Johnson, repeatedly tried to convince voters that he had no intention of getting the United States involved in the conflict in Vietnam. However, according to historian John Morton Blum, Johnson “was already planning to expand that war.” Johnson maintained his non-intervention position on Vietnam even after August 2, 1964, when North Vietnamese torpedo boats launched a supposedly unprovoked and unequivocal attack against the U.S. destroyer Maddox, which was on patrol in the Tonkin Gulf. When the ship was supposedly attacked two days later in the same vicinity, Johnson that evening announced that the U.S. would begin retaliatory air strikes against North Vietnam. Johnson subsequently asked Congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin resolution which “supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”

As Daniel Ellsberg has recalled, LBJ misled the country in several ways. The attack was not unprovoked; the U.S. had recently shelled several of North Vietnam’s islands in an operation run by the United States, code named 34A. Nor was the attack unequivocal; there was no second attack–the ship’s radar had picked up false readings of torpedoes that had never been fired. Finally, the Maddox and a sister vessel, the Turner Joy, were operating in an area long claimed by North Vietnam. The ships were on a secret mission, code named DeSoto, designed to elicit intelligence about the North’s activities.

Unlike Johnson, the Republican candidate Barry Goldwater publicly argued in favor of intervention. He was deemed by many — including many Republicans — an extremist. Goldwater believed that whatever force was needed to defeat the communists in Vietnam should be used, including nuclear bombs. In response to this the Johnson campaign released a controversial television ad which portrayed a little girl picking and counting petals from a daisy in a field, which then dissolves into a picture of a nuclear mushroom cloud. This ad, referred to as the “Daisy Girl,” was intended to highlight Goldwater’s alleged recklessness. In the end voters chose to elect President Johnson in a landslide victory. The following year LBJ began a massive build-up in Vietnam.

  • “Some are eager to enlarge the conflict. They call upon us to supply American boys to do the job that Asian boys should do. They ask us to take reckless action [such as bombing North Vietnam]….Such action would offer no solution at all to the real problems of Viet Nam.”Lyndon Johnson, October 1964
  • “use low yield nuclear bombs, if necessary, to fight communists in Vietnam and elsewhere”Barry Goldwater, 1964

1968

In 1968, the presidential campaign’s main issue was the ongoing war in Vietnam. “Hawks” remained supportive of the Johnson Administration’s policy in Vietnam, but “doves” opposed the war, and college students by the thousands protested American involvement. With this in mind in October 1967, Eugene McCarthy decided to enter the race for the Democratic Party’s nomination, running as an anti-war candidate. McCarthy, with the help of college students, won 42 percent in the New Hampshire primary. Shortly afterward Robert Kennedy announced his candidacy on a peace plank. Johnson, faced with declining poll ratings, decided to drop out of the race on March 31st. On June 6th, Kennedy won the California primary, but was assassinated. Vice President Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic Presidential candidate amidst intense anti-war rioting in August at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

The Republican candidate was former Vice President Richard Nixon. He spoke about his plans concerning the Vietnam War in generalities but promised to end it with honor. Humphrey, closely associated with Johnson’s Vietnam policy, was heckled wherever he went. After initial hesitating to break with the administration, Humphrey decided to assert his independence from Johnson, proclaiming his support for a bombing halt even without a goodwill gesture from the North Vietnamese (LBJ favored a gesture of goodwill prior to a halt). Humphrey gained momentum as he began to draw support from liberal Democrats and anti-war protesters. By October, as negotiations between the U.S. and North Vietnam took place, Humphrey came to wear the mantle of the peace candidate. Even Eugene McCarthy supported him. Nixon, however, believed that the prospect of peace was a campaign ploy. Despite the possibility of peace and Johnson’s decision to order a halt in the bombing, Humphrey lost to Nixon in a very close race.

  • “And I pledge to you tonight that the first priority foreign policy objective of our next administration will be to bring an honorable end to the war in Vietnam. We shall not stop there — we need a policy to prevent more Vietnams.”Richard Nixon, Acceptance Speech, Republican National Convention, August 8, 1968
  • “Meanwhile, as a citizen, a candidate, and Vice President, I pledge to you and to my fellow Americans, that I shall do everything within my power to aid the negotiations and to bring a prompt end to this war.”Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Acceptance Speech, Democratic National Convention, August 29, 1968
  • “As president, I would stop the bombing of the North as an acceptable risk for peace because I believe it could lead to success in the negotiations and thereby shorten the war.”Hubert Humphrey, September 30, 1968
  • “In the last thirty-six hours, I have been advised of a flurry of meetings in the White House and elsewhere on Vietnam, I am told that the top officials in the administration have been driving hard for an agreement on a bombing halt, accompanied possibly by a cease-fire in the immediate future. I since learned that these reports are true. I am also told that this spurt of activity is a cynical last-minute attempt by President Johnson to salvage the candidacy of Mr. Humphrey. This I do not believe.”Richard Nixon, October 25, 1972

1972

In 1972 American involvement in the Vietnam War still remained an important campaign issue. President Richard Nixon was running for re-election and hoped that he could present himself as a peace candidate and focus on his foreign policy achievements. Although he had not ended the war in Vietnam, he had been able to bring tens of thousands of American troops home. Through the process of “Vietnamization,” Nixon was gradually transferring the burden of the war to the South Vietnamese. However, he still heavily supplied the Vietnamese with military equipment, and authorized punishing bombing runs. An invasion of Cambodia had risked expanding the war.

The Democratic candidate was George McGovern, a South Dakota senator who was considered the spokesman for the anti-war movement. McGovern, a World War II bomber pilot, had opposed American involvement in Vietnam since 1963. The Democratic Party’s 1972 platform called for an immediate withdrawal of all American troops from Vietnam. The party also supported amnesty for draft resisters, as well as an offer of amnesty to deserters on a case by case basis. This would occur after all American troops and POWs returned home.

In the weeks leading up to the end of the campaign Nixon suspended bombing in Vietnam, and negotiations began with the National Liberation Front. Just before the election Secretary of State Henry Kissinger announced that “peace was at hand.” Kissinger’s announcement helped propel Nixon to a landslide victory.

  • “We must have the courage to admit that however sincere our motives, we made a dreadful mistake in trying to settle the affairs of the Vietnamese people with American troops and bombers. . . . There is now no way to end it and to free our prisoners except to announce a definite, early date for the withdrawal of every American soldier. I make that pledge without reservation.”George McGovern, announcement of candidacy for the Presidency, 1972
  • “We believe that war is a waste of human life. We are determined to end forthwith a war which has cost 50,000 American lives, $150 billion of our resources, that has divided us from each other, drained our national will and inflicted incalculable damage to countless people. We will end that war by a simple plan that need not be kept secret: The immediate total withdrawal of all Americans from Southeast Asia.”1972 Democratic Party Platform
  • “We believe that peace is at hand. We believe that an agreement is within sight, It is inevitable that in a war of such complexity that there should be occasional difficulties in reaching a final solution.”Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, October 1972

1980

In the 1980 presidential campaign Republican candidate Ronald Reagan told the Veterans of Foreign Wars stated that the Vietnam War was a “noble cause.” In 1980 the war was still an open wound and his comment became fodder for incumbent Democratic candidate, Jimmy Carter. A desperate Carter, playing on Vietnam fears, claimed that Reagan would likely involve the United States in war. But Reagan was able to score a victory in November, helping sweep into power a Republican Senate, for the first time in decades.

  • “It’s time that we recognized that ours was in truth a noble cause.”Ronald Reagan, August, 1980

1988

Accusations of draft evasion dogged vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle in the 1988 campaign. Quayle, an obscure senator from Indiana, had been virtually unknown to the nation when George H.W. Bush picked him as his running mate at the Republican convention. Wendell C. Phillippi immediately came forward to claim that he had helped Quayle get into to the National Guard to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War. Phillippi was a former senior editor at the Indianapolis News, which was owned by Quayle’s family, and also a major general in the Indiana National Guard.

Phillippi also claimed that there was nothing unusual in his intervention on Quayle’s behalf, as he had acted similarly for others as well. The revelation however cost Quayle, who had always assumed a pro-military posture, dearly. Despite calls to drop Quayle, Bush stuck to his decision and kept the senator on the ticket. The Bush/Quayle ticket won the election in November against Democrat Michael Dukakis.

  • “Exactly 20 years ago, who I said, ‘I’d like to get into the National Guard,’ phone calls were made, I can’t answer the – I don’t know the specifics of that. The only thing I know is I did want to get into the National Guard. I’m very proud of my service in the National Guard.”Senator Dan Quayle, 1988
  • “I got into the Guard fairly. There were no rules broken, to my knowledge… I, like many, many other Americans, had particular problems about the way the war was being fought. But yes, I supported my president and I supported the goal of fighting communism in Vietnam. “Vice President Dan Quayle 1992

1992

Once again in the 1992 presidential campaign, the question of a candidate dodging the draft for the Vietnam War became an issue. Quayle’s service in the National Guard once again made headlines. So too did charges that Democrat Bill Clinton dodged the draft for the Vietnam War. The Republicans claimed that in order to get a draft deferment, Clinton had pledged that he would enter the University of Arkansas Law School and join the R.O.T.C after attending Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship. Instead, he chose to be reclassified I-A, which would have sent him to war. After the draft lottery was instituted in November 1969, he drew too high a number to be drafted. Instead of going to Vietnam, Clinton attended Yale Law School.

On the eve of the New Hampshire primary a letter Clinton wrote in 1969 to the R.O.T.C chief at the University of Arkansas surfaced. In the letter Clinton expressed his thanks for getting him out of the draft. Despite the controversy–and accusations that he had had affairs with women–Clinton, the “Comeback Kid,” came in second in New Hampshire. In November he won a three-way election against incumbent Republican, George Bush and independent Ross Perot.

  • “I was in the draft before the lottery came in. I gave up the deferment. I got a high lottery number and I wasn’t called. That’s what the record reflects. A Republican member of my draft board has given an affidavit in the last couple of days saying that I got no special treatment and nothing in the letter changes that, although it is a true reflection of a just-turned-twenty-three-year-old young man.Bill Clinton, 1992
  • “I want to thank you, for saving me from the draft…I decided to accept the draft in spite of my beliefs for one reason: to maintain my political viability within the system. For years I have worked to prepare myself for a political life characterized by both practical political ability and concern for rapid social progress.”Bill Clinton to R.O.T.C commander Col. Eugene Holmes on December 3, 1969
  • “The Vietnam War is not an issue in 1992 and should not be”Bob Kerrey, Nebraska Senator and Democratic Candidate, in 1992
  • “To divide our party or our country over this issue today, in 1992, simply does not do justice to what all of us went through during that tragic and turbulent time.”John Kerry, on the Senate floor, February 27, 1992

2000

Vietnam played a minor role in the election, but questions about George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard during the height of the Vietnam War damaged the Republican’s credibility. Records indicated that he had possibly skipped duty during 1972 when he left Texas to work on a Republican senatorial candidate’s campaign in Alabama. Al Gore, the Democratic nominee, had served in a non-combat position in Vietnam and escaped criticism on this score at least.

2004

With the war in Iraq continuing, the Vietnam War again became a focus of the presidential campaign. John Kerry was attacked for allegedly “medal-shopping” while in Vietnam and for opposing the war after he returned home. The so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth assailed Kerry’s patriotism. For several weeks the newspapers were filled with stories about Vietnam. Democrats, reeling from the attacks, slowly responded by attacking George W. Bush’s service in the National Guard. A Texas Democrat claimed he had helped Bush jump other candidates to get into the Texas National Guard during the Vietnam War. CBS claimed documents showed that Bush had directly disobeyed an order to take a physical. CBS later apologized, saying the documents may not be authentic.

  • “I’m not going to have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and by those who have misled the nation into Iraq.”John Kerry, comments released ahead of a midnight speech in Springfield, Ohio, September 2, 2004
  • “Character counts. Especially in the president of the United States, character counts. And we want a president that will be truthful and honest and level with the American people. If the president will lie about this, will he lie about how we got into Iraq, for example?”Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, 2004
  • “Nineteen individuals have served both in the National Guard and as president of the United States, and I am proud to be one of them.”George W. Bush, September 14, 2004

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